So, to keep you all updated, AQATSA stands at 43 chapters currently, and 264,445 words. (That's over 12,000 words cut from the first rough draft!)
I am almost exactly halfway through the first draft. My betas are doing an epic job almost keeping up with me. We're all of us together averaging about 3-4 chapters per week. So at the current rate, that means 5-7 weeks before I can say that the second draft is complete, with me and my betas having gone over every chapter.
At that point, any unresolved issues and bits I am still not happy with will have to be fixed.
So, I can say definitely AQATSA will not be "ready" before October at the very earliest, and probably more like November or December before I am confident enough to start posting chapters.
If that wait distresses you, I may as well warn you now that I do not intend to start writing book five immediately after I've finished the final draft of AQATSA. I have some other writing projects that have been on the back burner too long, so I need to take a break from AQ, reread the first four books myself, and do some serious planning for the next book. So, don't expect book five to be done in 2012.
Anyway, some readers have complained in the past that there isn't enough attention paid to Alexandra's schoolwork and what life is like at Charmbridge Academy. I tried to add a little more of that in AQATSA, despite the fact that there are more non-Charmbridge chapters in this book than in any previous ones. However, sometimes that extraneous detail just has to be.... cut.
I got nearly identical comments from my betas about this scene: they liked it, but it didn't really serve any purpose. So, chop-chop (though I might change my mind and put it back in).
Anna, Constance, and Forbearance all entered the freshman essay contest, and Alexandra joined them in the Academic Magic Bowl. Mr. Calvert, the Dean of Ninth Grade, drew questions from a hat, conjured obscure items and Glyphs to identify, and wrote Arithmancy formulas on the board for students to solve.
Alexandra was doing fine until they got to potion identification. This portion of the Magic Bowl was administered by Mr. Grue, who watched from beneath his wiry black brows as the students poured drops from a rack of vials into flasks and beakers or mixed them with other magical substances in their cauldrons, testing reactions.
Of course students who took Advanced Potions would have an advantage here, Alexandra thought. She sniffed a potion vial containing a solution that was clear but refracted light into a greenish hue, went through the basic potion testing procedures she remembered from her three previous years in Mr. Grue's classes, and found herself stumped after applying every essential element she could to it in her cauldron.
“As I've always said, digging in herb gardens isn't much of an alchemical education,” Mr. Grue said to Dean Calvert. The dean sniffed.
“Why isn't testing knowledge of herbology part of the contest?” Alexandra asked.
“You are to remain silent, as per the rules of the competition, Miss Quick,” said the dean disapprovingly. “If you have a complaint about fairness, you may address it to me afterward.”
Alexandra was sure Mr. Grue's eyes glinted in satisfaction at having provoked her. Muttering angrily, she put her finger into the vial and then put her finger in her mouth.
“Quick!” Mr. Grue shouted. “That's not how you were taught to test potions! It could be poison, idiot girl!”
“Like you'd let us drink poison?” Alexandra tasted licorice and something medicinal, and wrote down her guess: 'Wakefulness Anti-Tonic.'
When she handed it to Mr. Grue, he tore it up. “Disqualified for violating safety procedures.” Behind her, Constance meekly handed a slip of paper to the teacher. Mr. Grue looked at it and grunted. “One point for Miss Pritchard, whichever one you are.”
Alexandra saw Constance's answer written on the slip: the same as hers. She bit her tongue while she and Constance left the room.